If you’re thinking about living in Calgary or are a newcomer to Calgary, this guide will help you navigate life in your new surroundings.
What is it like living in Calgary? Where is Calgary in Canada? How does the cost of living in Calgary compare with other cities? We have compiled answers to some of the most pressing questions you might have about Calgary.
- Where is Calgary in Canada?
- About Calgary
- Calgary Weather
- Culture in Calgary
- Living Costs in Calgary
- Transit in Calgary
- Dining out in Calgary
- Calgary Nightlife
- Calgary Positives & Negatives
Where is Calgary in Canada?
Calgary is the largest city in the province of Alberta, Canada.
Alberta borders the United States, with the province of British Columbia to the west, Saskatchewan to the east and the Northwest Territories to the north. Calgary sits within the prairies just east of the Rocky Mountains, where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet.
From here, in Alberta’s Grassland region, the prairies begin rolling east through central Canada. Calgary is frequently referred to as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, providing a dramatic backdrop to the city. World famous skiing, and the town of Banff, are only a 90-minute drive to the west.
There are around 1.3 million people living in Calgary, making it the third-largest municipality and fourth-largest metropolitan area in Canada. According to the 2016 Census, Calgary experienced the biggest population growth of any metropolitan area in Canada since 2011, and its residents also have the youngest average age of any major Canadian city.
Calgary is larger than Edmonton, the province’s capital situated approximately two and a half hours to the north by car. Calgary is the major urban centre for the entire southern half of the province of Alberta. It is surrounded by an area of profound beauty, with an unspoiled, resource-rich natural environment.
Economic activity in Calgary is heavily focused on the petroleum industry, agriculture, and tourism. Alberta has the lion’s share of Canada’s oil industry. Its reserves, in the form of oil sands, are estimated to be second only to Saudi Arabia’s. Most petroleum companies in Canada have their headquarters based in Calgary, contributing to making Calgary one of Canada’s wealthiest cities. The economic reliance on this industry typically results in ‘boom’ and ‘bust’ cycles, and current low oil prices mean that Calgary is in the midst of economic recovery. Calgary’s unemployment rate is currently higher than many other Canadian cities as a result.
In 1988, Calgary became the first Canadian city to host the Winter Olympic Games. These games continue to be a benchmark for future host countries on how to run a successful Olympics. The Calgary Olympics pioneered the use of community volunteers — something Canadians pride themselves on.
Calgary continues to be known for its ‘can-do’ attitude and business-friendly environment.
With its focus on the oil industry and proud ‘Cowboy’ traditions, you’ll often hear Alberta referred to as the ‘Texas’ of Canada. By extension, Calgary is often called ‘Cowtown’ and the Calgary Stampede, which lasts 10 days every July, is known as the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”
The Stampede is a rodeo where cowboys from different places gather to showcase their talents.
And it’s not just for those living in Calgary — it’s a major tourist attraction too. Hotels and flights get very busy and expensive during this time, so book early. Most of downtown Calgary shuts down during the Stampede to join in the festivities. Calgary is also known as “Heart of the new West.”
For more, read our 10 things to do in Calgary guide.
Calgary is a mountain-high city at 1,048 metres above sea level. The climate is dry, with generally low levels of humidity.
Sitting on the prairies, Calgary gets the most sun of any of Canada’s major cities. Summers can be warm and dry, with temperatures capable of reaching 30°C. More often than not it is mild, especially when compared with most of Canada. Even when it’s cold, it’s usually sunny. This can make living in Calgary in an attractive prospect.
Weather in Calgary is characterized by four distinct seasons. It almost always cools off comfortably at night, when frost can occur at any time of the year.
Winter is quite pleasant by Canadian standards, with temperatures staying below -10°C for only a few weeks of the year. Winter is made all the more pleasant by the city’s close proximity to the Rockies. There are so many great ski resorts to choose from, so don’t be afraid to embrace the winter snow.
The most distinctive characteristic of a Calgary winter is the Chinook. This is a warm wind from the Pacific Ocean that can raise the temperature by as much as 15 degrees in a few hours.
When the dark Chinook arch appears in the western sky, the warm wind is about to blow in. One day you might be wearing your winter jacket, the next, a short-sleeved shirt and shorts.
Running enthusiasts have been known to boast that they have run in shorts on at least one day in every month of the year, even in the depths of winter.
May is typically a windy month, while June has above average rainfall. July and August are the warmest months. September and October often enjoy “Indian summer” conditions.
Calgary receives low amounts of annual rainfall, with most of its annual precipitation coming in the form of snow during the winter months.
Depending on the year and the frequency of the warm Chinook winds, winter snowfall events may only remain visible for a few days. If you were to visit Calgary, August is known to be the most pleasant month in terms of weather. And if you plan on living in Calgary year-round, make sure your wardrobe is fit for all seasons.
Culture in Calgary
Around one-in-three people living in Calgary were born outside Canada, so the city is very diverse. Calgary is ethnically diverse, with a population that is made up of many immigrants from outside Canada, predominantly Filipino, Indian and Chinese. Just over one-third of the population is a visible minority.
In recent years, Canadians from other provinces have migrated in large numbers because of the strong economy.
Calgary is also the first choice of “second movers”. These are people who immigrated to Canada, settled, and decided to relocate again.
Given that many Calgarians are not from Calgary, the ones that are will always make a point to mention it — “born and raised here!”
Calgary has a world class selection of theatres and music venues, including:
• Jack Singer Concert Hall.
• Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.
• Theatre Calgary.
• Alberta Theatre Projects.
• Glenbow museum, which showcases historical artifacts from Calgary’s and Alberta’s past, as well as First Nations arts, artifacts, and other art exhibits.
Calgary is also extremely proud of its tradition in country music, and you’re likely to hear plenty of it if you decide to call this city home. Many of Calgary’s radio stations are dedicated solely to this genre, including Wild 953 and Country 105.
You’ll find the normal offering of recreational sports here in Calgary, if you want to keep fit with some soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball, etc. The city’s professional sports scene is not as vibrant as many other cities, however. The Calgary Flames, the city’s National Hockey League (NHL) franchise, are well followed and play at the iconic Scotiabank Saddledome downtown. You also have the Calgary Stampeders to cheer on the football (CFL) field throughout the summer and autumn, but there are no NBA, MLB, or MLS franchises in the city.
Explore more City of Calgary recreation and sports options here.
Cost of living in Calgary
This booming city has plenty of wealth, but living costs are lower than in its coastal neighbour Vancouver.
This is due in part to Alberta having no sales tax and a lower price of gasoline and natural gas. The cost of living in Calgary is high relative to smaller towns around Alberta, but quite reasonable compared with most Canadian cities.
Calgary’s recovery from its most recent economic recession has kept house prices and rent at competitive levels, which is great news for newcomers to Calgary. There is a good supply of rental properties, most of which are only available unfurnished. Renting a standard one-bed apartment will set you back around $1,000 per month, while two-bed versions cost around $300-400 more.
Learn more about the cost of living in Calgary.
Transit in Calgary
Calgary is served by buses and light rail transit (the C-Train). There is no underground rail system, and you’ll quickly find that the public transport offering isn’t as comprehensive as many other Canadian cities. The C-Train can prove useful, but note that living in Calgary can be tough without access to a vehicle. For detailed and concise info on transport in Calgary, visit our dedicated page.